Musings on music, old, new, popular and obscure. Post punk, metal, hip-hop, funk, and rock in general. A music fan with a desire to lose boundaries on what should and should not be listened to writes about experience in music from a listener's perspective, hopefully unhindered by prior expectation.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Blue, Why Don't You Stop and Look at What's Going Down? -- The Jayhawks' Music from the North Country

Sometimes, connections are just strange. I last wrote of Jaguar Love, who I found because, well, I liked the bands its members came from--simple enough. The Jayhawks, however, are something entirely different. I'm not sure if I heard their name before I looked into them, and I'm not completely certain I didn't hear their two bigger, earlier singles on the radio when I was younger. I did live in Missouri growing up, though, so it's entirely possible dim memories of "Jayhawks" relate only to one of my then-neighboring state's mascots.

When I finally looked into this band, though, it was because of an offhand reference to the song "Six Pack" by Black Flag, which was met with a reference to "6 Pack on the Dashboard" from The Bunkhouse Tapes, the semi-official title (a la The White Album/The Beatles) for the Jayhawks eponymous debut on Bunkhouse Records. I didn't know that, and simply used Google to find out where this reference came from.I found it was the Jayhawks and looked for an example of their music, as this was made by Gerald, who I've mentioned on many other occasions. I stumbled into a video of "Save It for a Rainy Day":

I ran into a copy of their post-reformation latest album, Mockingbird Time, and was pretty well taken. I referenced the album in one of my endless lyrical entry titles not too long ago, but also picked up the recent deluxe edition of Tomorrow the Green Grass. I saw this anthology, Music from the North Country, a few times before I picked it up. My disineterest in best-of collections, however, collided with my love of music videos--as well as the fact that, in this 3-disc deluxe edition, there was also a disc of bonus material, as well as the only location for their relatively small videography. I was finally pushed over the edge by the presence of "Save It for a Rainy Day," being my immediate introduction to the band and coming from an album old enough that it wasn't going to show anywhere new, but unpopular enough--and released recently enough--that it was not going to appear used very often.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Parades Burst from Your Brain, Plaid Haired Girls Call Your Name -- Jaguar Love

This is simultaneously the easiest and most difficult thing to write about as I go through my slew of purchases from the few days I photographed previously. This is actually a 3-song EP released in 2008 by Jaguar Love before they had completed an album. I bought it because I owned both of their albums, 2008's Take Me to the Sea and 2010's Hologram Jams and this was the only track left I did not own. Chaz over at Bull City Records had a copy in his discounted new CDs and I'd picked up Take Me to the Sea from him on vinyl not long before that, so it was a given (much like picking up The Hookers, the band The Murder City Devils were formed from, which Chaz emphasized--no surprise, as we first met minds over my purchase of the Devils' In Name and Blood on vinyl from his store at its old location, on my first ever Record Store Day). So, easy: one track. Not question about where to start on that, of course! Catchy as hell, if you like Johnny's vocals (which I do!). "Black water, in a crystal skull/Drink deep, hallucinate an ancient ocean/Black water, flowing out your mouth..."

Now, I guess the next question--easy to tell, but lengthy--is who are Jaguar Love?

Well, I have actually mentioned them before, and indeed briefly relayed their history. Jaguar Love, at the time of this EP, was composed of Johnny Whitney, Cody Votolato (younger brother of more famous Rocky Votolato) and Jay "J." Clark. Now here we practically need a chart, but I'd spend too much time on it and it would look terrible anyway, so bear with me. Johnny and Cody were most famously in the Blood Brothers, an extremely strange, experimental and abrasive post-hardcore band from Washington (the state) who broke up in 2006 after releasing their fifth album, Young Machetes.

Cody played guitar in both bands, and Johnny sang in both, as well as in another splinter band, Neon Blonde. Neon Blonde released one album and one EP in 2005, before the Blood Brothers broke up, but were also composed of "alumni": Johnny, of course, and drummer Mark Gajadhar. Mark handled all the percussive elements and Johnny did, well, everything else (with the exception of the saxophone's occasional appearances, by Joel Caplin). Neon Blonde is, by far, the weirdest, with Johnny's voice at one point accompanied by drums and piano and nothing else. Jay Clark remixed a Neon Blonde song on their EP Headlines, thus foreshadowing his later appearance in Jaguar Love.¹

I started it all, though, from the Blood Brothers. I picked up most of their latter era albums, beginning with Crimes and following with Young Machetes, ...Burn, Piano Island, Burn, and March on Electric Children because they were re-issued by major punk label Epitaph in "deluxe" editions with extra discs of live shows, concert video and b-sides. I was still working at Borders at the time and had never heard of them, but darned if they didn't look interesting, and the idea of these albums being re-released and completely unheard of fascinated me. The prices were solid, too--MSRPs for deluxes at around $16, so I just went for it. I didn't regret it, and later picked up This Adultery Is Ripe, their first album and Rumors Laid Waste, the collection of their early 7"s and splits.

I heard that after they broke up, Johnny had formed these other bands (of course, I found out Neon Blonde was formed before they broke up, but nevermind!) and happened to stumble into Hologram Jams around that time. Clark had actually left the band at this point, leaving it Cody and Johnny and a drum machine for even live performance.

That's about as close as you can get to understanding what the logic behind looking into a band no one has ever mentioned to me and I've never heard of is. It's rough and odd and somewhat arbitrary--though the idea that a reissue of an entire indie catalogue is somewhat leading, to be fair.

And yes, I realize Johnny's voice is utterly repellent to many people. I really (sincerely!) like it, though.

¹Let's be really amusing here:
The first Blood Brothers EP was recorded in the "soft underbelly of the Jake Snider Residence." Jake Snider was the vocalist/guitarist for Sharks Keep Moving, and currently fronts Minus the Bear. Minus the Bear's most famous guitarist is doubtless Dave Knudson, though, who was in Botch. Further, Clark's prior gig was Pretty Girls Make Graves, whose first EP was released on Dim Mak Records, who released all of Neon Blonde's work. Pretty Girls, of course, were a sort of splinter from the Murder City Devils, who formed from the Hookers, whose drummer became Pretty Girls' vocalist. Apparently, if you're from Seattle and in a band, everyone knows everyone and played in their band, their bandmate's band, or their brother's, or produced it, or shared a label. It's kind of mind-blowing.

Monday, September 3, 2012

I've Never Met a Traitor I Didn't Like -- Hot Cross' Cryonics

To avoid getting mired in an excessive numbers or numerals, I'm moving away from the titling format for this discussion of these releases--also reflecting the fact that this is the last of a previously singular post broken down into the separate releases that were to compose it. I'd gotten up to this album, wrote half of it, realized it was going to be a stupidly long post and asked my friend Brian who agreed splitting things might be advisable. So, now, I'm breaking away from even that and simply writing on the albums on their own terms. I'll still tag them as part of that series, but let the posts have a little breathing space from uniformity.

This was the find that day, for sure. While Special Wishes was nice in that it wasn't going to be easy to find cheap, I've seen Harvey Milk albums float around and did not know at the time it was a rare one--indeed, I'd bought the compilation of their early singles and splits from the very same store. Of course, I learned in the course of my usual dissection and reassembly of compiled tracks into their original sources that the insert for that CD is basically the only place you can find the cover art for those old Harvey Milk singles!

Still, I picked up Hot Cross's Risk Revival a few years back, only because its listed label was Equal Vision Records, which was the first label Coheed and Cambria was on--at least, under the name Coheed and Cambria (obsessive fans know that of course the Delirium Trigger EP was released under the name "Shabutie," and it came out on the label Wisteria). Admittedly, Equal Vision does stop off into stuff that I don't feel like I have time to sift through, so this isn't a guarantee, but looking into Risk Revival led me to the track "Turncoat Revolution," which has one of the most blisteringly fantastic central riffs around (comparable in some ways to the riff from Converge's "Dark Horse" I mentioned in the previously).

Allegedly, the album is "screamo," which is one of the most derogatorily used genre names I've ever heard--both dismissive and denigrating--in almost every context I've ever seen it used. The reviews I found were the ones on Amazon, though, which meant there was only a handful of them, all three stars and all from a community embracing the genre names rather than using them as catch-all insults. I always prefer finding such reviews to get an idea of what genres mean, as I read things like "While Hot Cross may most commonly be known as the band that came after Saetia," as it gives me a nice context for what a band is to the community it comes from. Of course, I still haven't ever seen any Saetia so, despite the fact that they were clearly a central figure here, I haven't a great idea what they sound like.

The album, though, was great--sure, Billy Werner is screaming throughout the album (if you take that reductive approach of "aggressive vocals are always screaming" that doesn't appreciate the variation in methods used to achieve aggressive vocals), and yes, it's got a sense of betrayal, loss and emotional frustration and anger, but the lyrics are intelligent and interesting. But forget all that--the thing smokes:

That was probably one of the best  pseudo-blind purchases I ever made on an obscure, defunct band out of a morass of random titles--a set of releases dumped at an FYE because the labels had damaged stock, missing slipcases or re-packaged used titles. There was a lot of Equal Vision, plenty of Earache and a few other labels that would catch my eye quickly. It was the same boxes of miscellaneously labeled stuff that spawned some of the purchases mentioned here.

Soon, Hot Cross entered my regular listening for its mix of melody, aggression and expression. It manages to ride a crest of energy that more aggressively abrasive bands (such as the death metal bands I listen to) can occasionally become tiring with, never quite crossing that point as the clever guitarwork carries the sound for the part of me that appreciates the "prettier" side of things. By this time, I let Chaz over at Bull City Records know I was on the lookout (inspiring the usual response to mentions of Hot Cross: "Man, haven't heard that name in a while!") and he suggested I check out Level Plane Records, which is a label he told me would carry similar material.

So, when I saw Cryonics at the store that day, I snatched it up without hesitation as my jaw dropped for seeing "Hot Cross" on a split card in a CD section in the first place. At this point, the band apparently functioned with two guitarists, creating a different variety of more complicated and often more subdued sorts of textures, exemplified in songs like "Frozen by Tragedy" (which tends away from naked aggression) or, "A Tale for the Ages":

And, of course, what label was Cryonics released on? Level Plane.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Tiny Music...Songs from Various Record Shops VIII -- Harvey Milk's Special Wishes

 Tiny Music...a series of entries on recent and seemingly random purchases. Why I made them, and why, perhaps, you ought to do the same--or at least take up the methodology!
Part I              Part V
Part II            Part VI
Part III           Part VII
 Part IV                        

Harvey Milk is a peculiar band. Named for the assassinated, openly gay San Francisco politician, Harvey Milk (the band) has no political associations to speak of, no clear stance on anything political, no openly gay members or anything else to indicate why they chose the name. If someone has an answer, that would be awesome. Until then, please explore their merch page and perhaps reconsider taking their attitude--whatever it is, anyway--seriously. There's weirdness, humour and experimentation melded into a band that is primarily, I suppose, sludge/doom/stoner metal. It's almost all very down tempo, loud, and heavy in the sense that it is full of low-end and pounds and thuds its way out of speakers.
Their outspoken frontman, Creston Spiers, suggested that this, Special Wishes was their best album yet, and that the acclaimed follow up from 2008, Life...The Best Game in Town was their worst. Of course, that album was my first, stumbling into a similarly random-seeming cover: another badly-angled shot of a wall, but this time bearing a crumpled poster for Iron Maiden's second album, Killers, the last with first vocalist Paul DiAnno. It's familiar enough that that one jumped out at me when I saw it, despite the fact that both albums, as you can see, give no front-based indication of who or what they are.

Stylistically, at least, there is not a huge change between the two albums as the style is pretty thoroughly their own. While notions of other extremely slow--though not quite Sleep's Dopesmoker slow--sludge bands reach your ears, eventually songs like "Once in a While" or "Instrumental" with its bizarre radio-trivia-sample frame that references the Alan Parsons Project's The Turn of a Friendly Card appear and make you wonder what is going on.

This was a lucky find, too--it's no longer in print and was not easy to find in the first place. This is part of the absolute joy of the approach I take: while you can find things online with relative simplicity in many cases, the hunt and the find, and sometimes the unrealized find, has a thrill to it that you can't get from clicking through Amazon's used section. In fairness, this did come from the used chain of stores that also once contained the extremely out-of-print Josef K album(s) and compilations for a total of $59, and they often research and price in accordance with such information. Fortunately for me--unlike when I picked up those Josef K albums which, yes, I did, despite that being $59 for two CDs--this was just priced as a plain ol' used CD at the time.

"Once in a While"

Tiny Music...Songs from Various Record Shops VII -- Out Every Window the Snap of Envy and Greed

Tiny Music...a series of entries on recent and seemingly random purchases. Why I made them, and why, perhaps, you ought to do the same--or at least take up the methodology!
Part I              Part V
Part II            Part VI
Part III                       
 Part IV                        

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